Lindsey, Bristol South Socialist Party
As part of a blatant attempt at pre-election populism, Tory chancellor Jeremy Hunt pledged in the 2023 budget to extend the amount of childcare working parents can claim free from the government. It will be rolled out over the next year and a half until it will be up to 30 hours per week during term time for children from the age of nine months.
For parents who need the extra income, independence, and everything else gained from work, this sounds welcome. But, under the Tories’ plans, it is unfeasible. For each ‘free’ hour of childcare, the government pays the childcare provider about £4.80 an hour when the actual cost is around £7.50. This shortfall has led to decreases in childcare available because childminders and nurseries can’t afford to cover that gap.
The gap between what the government pays and what it costs is being plugged by extra nursery charges which have to be paid by parents. And that is with it being as it is now. Extending free childcare without plugging that gap only means that places will decrease, especially for those who are trying to get the ‘free’ childcare.
If you’ve got a new job or you’re returning back to work it is already intensely difficult to find decent childcare that will fit in with your job. Trying to do that, get childcare lined up in time, then foot charges and everything else will add huge pressure on parents already struggling with the cost of living and excessive housing prices and rents.
The extension of childcare will also only be available to families where both parents are working more than 16 hours. If one parent is out of work due to disability or illness then the family will not be entitled to extra childcare; adding more pressure on struggling parents and holding back the life chances of children to thrive within a childcare setting. And, yet again, single parent families are penalised and hindered from being able to go to work. Trips to the jobcentre will also mean work coaches telling parents they now can work because they have free hours, despite the fact parents still won’t access them because of a lack of places.
Years of chronic underinvestment and closures of council-funded childcare providers has meant stress, pressure, and parents – predominantly women – being stuck at home when they want to work but can’t find childcare.
We need fully funded, free, high-quality, flexible and safe childcare for all. What is stopping Labour councils expanding their provision and presenting the Tory government with the bill? If they can’t afford to invest in our children’s future, then we can’t afford them and their rotten system.